During his nine seasons in the National Football League, Lamar Lathon thrilled fans as a Houston Oiler and Carolina Panther. A University of Houston graduate from Wharton, Lathon delivered punishing hits like few other linebackers of his era. Lathon has now joined hundreds of other retired players suing the NFL, claiming the league failed to warn and protect them from the dangers of repeated concussions.
"I was a high-impact player," said Lathon. "My whole motto was, 'Throw your body on the grenade.'"
In the more than 10 years since Lathon hung up his jersey, he said he has been in declining in health. In addition to the 30 surgeries he said he has endured to repair damage to his knees, shoulders and arms, Lathon said what concerns him most is what damage he suffered from repeated blows to the head.
"The depression," said Lathon. "There is something to waking up and being down and you have no reason in the world to be down."
Lathon also said he suffers from short-term memory loss, a sense of "confusion" about life and what he believes are changes in his personality.
"The real person that I am is a loving, giving person. I'll give you the shirt off my back. Now I have become more of an anti-social person. I don't really like dealing with a lot of people. Very short-tempered, where I honestly used to be an even-tempered person." said Lathon. "Sometimes I honestly don't know who I am, when it comes down to it, and where I need to be."
Lathon recalled several times when he "saw stars" after a blow to the head.
"They honestly know you're not 100 percent when you're not 100 percent, but you're supposed to be a warrior," said Lathon.
"The first thing the league owes these players is honesty," said Houston attorney Anthony Buzbee, who represents 75 retired players, including Lathon.
Buzbee claims the NFL knew about the dangers of repeated concussions but failed to either warn or protect players from the damage caused by these injuries.
"The NFL has known for years about problems with repeated concussions," said Buzbee. "There wasn't a real intent to get to the bottom of the problem and see how extensive it really was."
Buzbee points to work done by the league over the last several years in terms of concussion related research, treatment and warnings to players. This work has helped spur research into better equipment, and the NFL has helped Texas and several other states pass laws mandating how schools monitor and deal with concussion related injuries in student athletes.
"There's clearly a problem here that wasn't addressed many years ago that should have been addressed," said Buzbee.
In response to these allegations, Local 2 Investigates received a written statement from NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, "The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so. Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league's actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."
Lathon said he applauds the work now being done by the NFL but added it comes too late for him and other players of his era.
"I honestly think we deserve to have a good care package without having to fight for pennies," said Lathon. "If I had it to do all over again, honestly, I probably wouldn't play football."
Both Lathon and Buzbee said they believe how the NFL handles this controversy will have an effect on how the game is played at all levels.
"Whatever the NFL does, everyone else will follow," said Buzbee.
KPRC (NBC) Houston
April 27, 2012